Brain Topography

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 407–418 | Cite as

Fast Neural Dynamics of Proactive Cognitive Control in a Task-Switching Analogue of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test

  • Gema Díaz-Blancat
  • Juan García-Prieto
  • Fernando Maestú
  • Francisco Barceló
Original Paper


One common assumption has been that prefrontal executive control is mostly required for target detection (Posner and Petersen in Ann Rev Neurosci 13:25–42, 1990). Alternatively, cognitive control has also been related to anticipatory updating of task-set (contextual) information, a view that highlights proactive control processes. Frontoparietal cortical networks contribute to both proactive control and reactive target detection, although their fast dynamics are still largely unexplored. To examine this, we analyzed rapid magnetoencephalographic (MEG) source activations elicited by task cues and target cards in a task-cueing analogue of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. A single-task (color sorting) condition with equivalent perceptual and motor demands was used as a control. Our results revealed fast, transient and largely switch-specific MEG activations across frontoparietal and cingulo-opercular regions in anticipation of target cards, including (1) early (100–200 ms) cue-locked MEG signals at visual, temporo-parietal and prefrontal cortices of the right hemisphere (i.e., calcarine sulcus, precuneus, inferior frontal gyrus, anterior insula and supramarginal gyrus); and (2) later cue-locked MEG signals at the right anterior and posterior insula (200–300 ms) and the left temporo-parietal junction (300–500 ms). In all cases larger MEG signal intensity was observed in switch relative to repeat cueing conditions. Finally, behavioral restart costs and test scores of working memory capacity (forward digit span) correlated with cue-locked MEG activations at key nodes of the frontoparietal network. Together, our findings suggest that proactive cognitive control of task rule updating can be fast and transiently implemented within less than a second and in anticipation of target detection.


Cognitive control Context processing Magnetoencephalography Prefrontal cortex Task-switching Wisconsin card sorting test 



This study was supported by Grants from the Fundació La Marató de TV3 (112710), and Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO PSI2013-44760-R) to FB. We thank the insightful criticisms and helpful commentaries from two anonymous reviewers.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise, related to this work.

Supplementary material

10548_2017_607_MOESM1_ESM.tiff (3.9 mb)
Supplementary Fig. 1. Group-averaged (N = 15) MEG signal waveforms recorded from 306 sensors for switch cues (upper panel), repeat cues (middle panel), and switch–repeat differences (lower panel). Trials were averaged around cue onset with a 300 mseg baseline. On the right are the respective topographies of dipolar activity at the sensor space for each group-averaged condition 100–200 mseg post-cue onset (shaded area), a latency window when significant switch-specific differences in MEG signal intensity were observed at the largest number of frontal and posterior regions. The color scale of the topo plots depends on the orientation of the dipoles on the cortex (TIFF 4007 KB)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience (UCM-UPM), Centre for Biomedical TechnologyUniversidad Politécnica de MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.Laboratory of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering, Department of Industrial EngineeringUniversidad de La LagunaTenerifeSpain
  3. 3.Department of Basic Psychology IIComplutense University of MadridMadridSpain
  4. 4.Laboratory of NeuropsychologyUniversity of the Balearic IslandsPalma de MallorcaSpain

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